Why confidence is the key to success in mentoring relationships

Posted on October 27, 2018

Alan Watt has been a ProjectScotland mentor since 2015. He has kindly written this blog to share his experiences of mentoring and in particular, to demonstrate the important part confidence plays in the mentee achieving positive outcomes.

I remember approaching my first mentor meeting thinking I’d prepared well for the encounter. I had thought about the structure to walk through, getting to know my mentee and their hopes and aspirations. Looking back, however, I’d mistakenly made the assumption, perhaps based on their academic achievements, that my mentee would be receptive, enthusiastic and ready to receive what I had to share with them.

Not surprisingly, it didn’t work out as straightforward as I’d expected, what I hadn’t factored into my preparation was the confidence level of the mentee and how critical that self-confidence would be to the success of our mentoring relationship, specifically in enabling them to both absorb and act on advice.

Soon after initial meetings with some of my mentees, I began to notice that tasks that had been agreed the week before hadn’t been completed or sometimes not even attempted. Probing led me to recognise that there were behavioural signs appearing that could be attributed to low self-confidence.  I noticed that it was these behaviours that had begun to act as a blocker to our successful mentoring relationship. So I took a step back, evaluated the behaviours I was seeing and researched possible ways to tackle them.

There are many articles written on the subject and they proved useful in helping me work out what I could do to help boost the self-confidence of the mentee. However, I found it useful to distill them into these 5 areas :

  1. Providing positive feedback and reassurance on their attempts to complete a task – probe into what they did do and praise that effort.
  2. Encouraging support – I found in a couple of cases they had become alone with little or no support system. Encourage them to seek out support, friends or parents they can open up to.
  3. Exercising – this is a must to help them to understand the importance of exercise and that this doesn’t mean ‘going to the gym’, walking outdoors, preferably up a hill to increase cardio, every day for around 1/2 hour.
  4. Reconnecting with friends through a hobby or pastime forgotten or parked.
  5. Creating a daily task list that is reviewed morning and night and at out mentor sessions, giving them the opportunity to bask in the success of their achievements and for us to share during our sessions and enable me to praise.

According to the Oxford dictionary, confidence is  ‘A feeling of self-assurance arising from an appreciation of one’s own abilities or qualities.’ I figured that if I could help mentees to learn to trust in their own abilities, qualities and judgments they would be much more likely to succeed.

The success I observed from actioning the points above was tangible, all by enabling the mentees to create a more supportive and holistic lifestyle with a strong work, life and health balance. This not only enabled them to feel better about themselves, it opened them up to ideas which they could action with more vigour, leading to future success with job applications, interviews and relationships both in and out of the work place.

So what, if anything can we do to improve the confidence for our mentees?

  1. Recognise from early meetings any signs that lack of self-confidence could be an issue, listening for clues in the stories of their journey to where they are now
  2. When appropriate and when trust is built perhaps use a tool that can provide an analysis which can be used as a catalyst around which to discuss and explore the key components of self-confidence together. Here is one I’ve used https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newTCS_84.htm
  3. Introduce any or all of the 5 points above and watch how, slowly, improvements start to appear. It can take great patience during which dips may appear resulting in a need for you to go round the loop again.

If as mentors we believe that “Confidence is a skill that can be learnt,” then perhaps we can take time with the mentee to embark on a journey of discovery as they help themselves to build and maintain their confidence. Investing time with them, exploring ideas that will enable them to become more receptive and confident about themselves providing a stronger foundation on which to build the skills needed to sell themselves in the job market.

So now before any new mentoring meeting, I spend time refreshing my understanding of what I can do to be more adept at detecting if lack of self-confidence is a likely symptom and, if it is, I have a toolbox of ideas I can dip into to find suitable strategies to overcome this challenge before starting the mentoring relationship.